Luray Caverns+ Cave co. opens new attraction two days after First Lady's visit
Just two days after First Lady Michelle Obama and family members visited Monticello and the east coast's top cave, the company that operates Luray Caverns opened a new attraction showcasing local history.
With Lt. Governor Bill Bolling assisting, officials cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Luray Valley Museum. Public relations director John Shaffer says the grand opening date for the museum that actually began operating in April was chosen as Saturday, August 14 because it's the 132nd anniversary of the Caverns' discovery.
The Obamas discovered it Thursday.
"I'm kind of limited in what I can tell," says Shaffer, who notes that the First Lady's group–- which he said included 9-year-old Sasha as well as some extended family–- spent about 20 minutes inside the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum and about an hour inside the main attraction.
Main attraction indeed. While the Luray Caverns Corporation has added features over the years, including an evergreen maze (which the Obamas skipped), the underground wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites not only grabbed precious First Family time, the Caverns also enjoy just under half a million annual visitors.
That puts Luray just behind Monticello (which earns about 460,000 visitors each year) at number 6 on his list of Virginia's top attractions. Though Shaffer says the Corporation declines to get more specific on Luray's annual head-count, he did answer this reporter's questions about something that's been removed from the Caverns in recent years: the plaque designating the so-called "Hawes Column."
For decades–- until about one decade ago, according to Shaffer–- a Washington D.C.-based scientist, Arthur Hawes, who had helped promote the massive subterranean complex in its early days, was honored with a plaque affixed to a stone formation. However, Shaffer says that company officials decided to keep the cave experience as natural as possible.
"We removed that plaque," says Shaffer. "We decided it kind of goes against our position as a National Natural Landmark. I'm sorry on your behalf."